A DAY OF SECONDS
November 5, 2005; Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, USA: When the $30,000 Verge Mid Atlantic Cyclocross Series made it�s annual pilgrimage to the Harrisburg area on Saturday, November 5, the first word on everybody�s mind was �Wow�. By the end of the event, the word of the day and changed to �seconds�.
A sign near the giant children�s �fun fort� that was on the start-finish straight said, �Welcome to the Field of Dreams.� And, for cyclocross racers accustomed to mother nature�s fury it was, indeed, a field of dreams. The beautiful Lower Allen Community Park, near Pennsylvania�s capital, was bathed in warm sunshine under a nearly cloudless sky, with the temperature reaching the mid 70�s (about 22 C). With unseasonably warm weather for the second race in a row, racers and their families congregated at the barriers and the adjacent picnic deck and exclaimed, �Wow! Can you believe this weather?�
Because of the warm, dry weather, the course stayed remarkably consistent throughout the day. A classic East-Coast venue, the Lower Allen course consisted primarily of grass surface that wound its way around and through the fields and playgrounds of the park. Yet, from the earliest practices, the reports were that it was a course that favored mountain bikers because of it�s abundance of technical off-camber turns and a very fast descent, in addition to two loamy sand pits. Ironically, as is so often the case in cyclocross, the UCI Women�s Elite race was decided not by the course�s technical personality -- but by the lone power section of the course.
At the start of the Women�s race, Idaho�s Georgia Gould (sponsored by Kona Bicycles), took the hole shot and extended her lead around the short prologue lap. As the field worked made it�s way back onto the main course, Gould had a significant lead over Velo Bella teammates Christine Vardaros and Barbara Howe with Independent Fabrication�s Maureen Bruno-Roy leading the rest of the chasers. On the second off-camber turn, Vardaros slid out and crashed, nearly taking out her teammate Howe. Though Howe and Bruno-Roy didn�t crash, they were held up as leader Gould was hammering the pedals to string out the field. Gould was gone, and so was the teamwork that Velo Bella had planned to use. Vardaros would eventually retire from the race because her brakes, damaged in the crash, failed when she was too far from the pits.
By the middle of the second lap, Howe had dropped everyone and was looking at a 200 yard gap between herself and the leader. As they dipped out of site, the mild-mannered Californian suddenly transformed into her second identity -- the infamous �Barbarella� -- just as she entered the power portion of the course. Gould was pushing a big gear has hard as she could, but by the end of the power portion of the course a quarter mile later, �Barbarella� had closed to within 50 yards. The remaining gap was soon erased and the two leaders spent the rest of the race riding wheel-to-wheel, with neither able to establish any sort or superiority over the other. Meanwhile, the crowd was transfixed as Verge MAC regular Betsy Schauer (FORT/GPOA) steadily worked her way through the field, eventually finishing fourth -- her best-ever result in a UCI-sanctioned international race.
As the leaders approached the finish, everybody anticipated a sprint on the uphill, dirty hard-pack finish road. But �Barbarella� rode Gould off her wheel with about 700 yards to go and finished alone in first place ahead of a spent Georgia Gould. Afterward, when she had transformed back into her normal identity of Barbara Howe, the winner showed a special satisfaction with the win. �I�ve always been a down on power, so I�ve really been concentrating on that,� she said. �I�ve been doing a lot of motor pacing (i.e. training at speed while drafting a car or motorcycle). It really makes a difference when you just put your head down and go.�
Like the Women�s race, the International Elite Men�s race saw a Kona rider take the holeshot, as once again, Barry Wicks lead to the first corner. From then on, the race read like the script of the �60�s comedy movie �It�s a Mad, Mad, Mad, World�. Like the movie, a collection of characters chased after the elusive �Big W� in search of the big prize, and none ended up with it. Fiordi Frutta teammates Matt White and Mike Cody tried to tag-team Wicks early, but he was too strong. Instead, they settled into team-time-trial formation with the objective of placing both riders on the podium. They succeeded, though Troy Wells of TIAA-Cref/Cliff Shot tried to real them in. Consistently bunny-hopping over the barriers without dismounting, Wells gave the crowd a show, and looked at times to be capable of bridging the gap. But stomach cramps near the end to the race left him to finish alone in fourth place overall which was good enough for first in the Under Age 23 category for the se cond Saturday in a row. Aside from the bunny-hopping exploits of Wells and a few others, the main entertainment for the crowd was, like the women, a �local� FORT/GPOA rider contesting for a podium position in an internationally-ranked race. Ryan Leech, for the second race in a row, was very aggressive throughout the race to finish in fourth after outsprinting Roger Aspholm of Westwood Velo.
After the race, �Big Barry� Wicks said, �I was just trying to ride smooth and not make any mistakes that can cost you seconds here and there.� So, while it would seem that professional racers would only be interested in first, Wicks and Wells both worried about seconds and finished first -- for the second time.
In the �Masters presented by Aqua Fina� race, Pennsylvania�s Mike Yozell (FORT/GPOA) and North Carolina�s Charlie Storm (Inland Construction) teamed up to drop current points leader Eric Schlauch (Somerset Wheelmen). Yozell pounced when Storm eased up just prior to the final obstacle on the last lap, a nasty downhill gravel u-turn, and won his second Verge MAC Masters race in a row.
In the Men�s B race, points leader Steve Cummings (Kraynicks/Mezzatesta) was not match for Chris Case (University of Texas), but neither was anyone else. Said Cummings afterward, �I just needed some mud and roots�, but even he was smiling about the beautiful weather. After a dominating ride, winner case discovered that part of the bead on his front tire was frayed and popping off the rim.